James Cameron discusses his experiences as a Brittish Journalist and his political and social beliefs ; part 4
BROADCAST: Jun. 4, 1973 | DURATION: 00:52:20
Studs Terkel interview with James Cameron, Brittish journalist. They discuss a variety of topics with politics and young people's attitudes the majority of the interview. This interview is done in Chicago, while the other three parts were done at Lewis and Clark College.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel This is the fourth hour of a conversation with James Cameron, the distinguished British journalist who, to my way of thinking, perhaps is the best journalist writing in English today. And our meeting now is in Chicago. The last three hours we heard, the previous three hours were when you and I both were at Lewis & Clark, you as a journalist-in-residence and I for a one-day lecture. And I'm thinking of your life and what you've seen and experienced as a journalist, beginnings in Dundee so many years ago in Scotland, your work for Beaverbrook, your coups, though you don't consider it that, your exposing Syngman Rhee as a little phony and causing a cataclysm in British journalism at the time, your being the first Western journalist at the time to visit North Vietnam, your friendship with Nehru, your knowledge of India, your being in Bangladesh in the ditch and seeing the metaphor of our day--the millions of refugees walking by, unseeing people in the ditch who were dying 'cause they had to survive. Thoughts of young--the last hour we had ended with Bertrand Russell, the death of Bertrand Russell and Picasso, and the subject of youth and creativity and life.
James Cameron Well, all those things that we've just been talking about that you've just been describing were experiences of enormous varieties, as you say, but they had never included anything like the last two months, which have been spent up in an American college in the far Pacific Northwest, which is an area which I'd never been to before, and in an environment, a human environment that I've never been to before in my life, because not only am I far from being a professor, as you can imagine, but I've never even been a student. And the daily and constant and hourly association with the young people was something that I hadn't really ever known before other than with my own family. And if I've got to be absolutely honest about it, I find it slightly depressing. Not that there was anything to be found in Portland, Oregon but kindness, consideration, generosity. Indeed, in the end, a great deal of personal affection. But whatthere was in such abundance was "I couldn't care less." And I am always--I mean, three times as old as them as I am, I still feel a daily sense of excitement and anguish and fear and horror about the way things are going in the world in general and particularly in this country. But it was almost impossible to raise that same level of even interest in the very people who most profoundly depend upon this. And I don't mean to say that they were cynical about it, it was just that it didn't seem to have any real meaning, and I could hardly bring myself to believe that the comparable generation that we were working with, you and I, Studs, in '68 and so on in Chicago, in Paris, in Berlin the year before, that this is the generation that's inherited that sort of 20-year-old status. What a time five years has been.
Studs Terkel How would you explain that? What--how would you describe what you experienced in Lewis & Clark? Using this, perhaps, I think Lewis & Clark is a typical middle-class small college. It is not Berkeley, yet, perhaps, the students are not too far removed from Berkeley students in this feeling of "I couldn't care less" at this moment. I don't know.
James Cameron Well, I can't make any comparisons with other colleges. I think this college was a, perhaps, a little bit too pleasant. It was an extraordinarily beautiful place and its doors opened up onto an area that was equally tranquil. It seemed to have no direct roots with reality, and the students who were there, who insistently, continually referred to each other and themselves as "the kids," were obviously in no position to have to go out into the world and fight very hard when they leave. This was a college of liberal arts which, I think, was interpreted a little slackly. But I honestly don't know. You probably would find exactly an comparable situation in the Sorbonne today for all
Studs Terkel I was about to say, not only in the Sorbonne, but also in a, what might be called a blue-collar community, and urban college. I remember visiting the University of Illinois Circle Campus here in Chicago in what was once an area called Harrison-Halsted and here was this enclave, the University of Chicago Circle Campus--University of Illinois, rather and with the students I met there fit the pattern of the students you described in a middle-class enclave removed from the city. And this is in the heart of the city. And there, too, I felt the phrase applicable could be "I couldn't care less." You mentioned kids, the word "kids" used very often, and that attracted you, didn't
James Cameron Yes, it attracted me. That's to say, it seized my interest, but it did really repel me, because they were always asking me, "Well, what do you think of the kids today?" you see. And I said, "I refuse to think of kids. I'm not here to talk to kids. So long as you continue to consider yourself as kids and refer to yourself as kids, you'll always be kids." I said, "You're young men and young women who've already got a Goddamn vote if you only knew it. Do you know it?" "Well, I guess so." "Well, what are you going to do with it?" "Oh, time enough to think about that."
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about that incident you tell. It is a very magnificent piece you wrote that will appear in about two weeks in "The New Statesman". You call it "Far in the Tame West", is it? And that incident involving a quote-unquote kid.
James Cameron Well, it was, perhaps, a rather corny and stupid [Dornish?] Joke I made, but one of the kids I stopped and I said, "It's too bad about your President. Since he was so determined on insisting on capital punishment, he felt obliged to go out and hang himself yesterday." "No kidding."
James Cameron He said "No kidding." But not with any particular emotion. Then he paused a while and he said, "So, well, I guess that means Agnew." So I said, "Suppose so." "Oh, well," he said brightly, "That will please my dad, anyways." And off he went. And it wasn't so much that that puzzled me, that I could see that the moment he turned his back and left, the whole incident [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel Now I want to get something here. This is a terrifying, it's a funny story and, yet, a terrifying story. You told a joke. You used a heavy- handed joke. So you told a joke. He didn't laugh. He assumed possibly it was true. The event--that you told the joke may have been true, but it didn't matter. It didn't matter. Is that the point?
James Cameron I don't think it's apathy. I think apathy is--well, it is apathy. But what brings the apathetic condition about, which is sometimes almost catatonic, you know. It really is. And I don't altogether go along with the argument that we have bequeathed this generation a world of such total hopelessness that it's not worth doing anything about, because I am damned if I'm going to assume all responsibility for that and drape myself in sackcloth and ashes because it is not true. People like you and I have done it, as much as we humanly could. But at the same time, one must bear in mind I'll always come back again to this fact. It was a 1945. A historical event happened that changed the world beyond any sort of redemption, which was in fact the invention of a nuclear situation which can never be retracted. These children were not born then, most of them. I don't think for a moment that they go around praying and crossing themselves and saying, "Oh, alas, alas, we're born into a nuclear age," but nonetheless they know they are, and they just know they are born into a world that can summarily come to an end possibly by accident, possibly by evil design. And whether they are conscious of that thing, not every hour of the day but even once a year, they are nonetheless basically conditioned to believe that the world, the conduct of human society, is no longer basically a matter for their control any longer. I don't think they blame us particularly. It is just a historical fact, an evolutionary fact, that just as man originally emerged from the swamps and grew legs and grew a brave and good intelligence, he's gradually an illusion.
Studs Terkel This leads to a number of things. At the same time, and here's the paradox, isn't it, because there were you witnessing the Bikini blast that moment so long ago when your son was born just at that moment. And these children, in a sense, are your sons. Now, is there something else--aside from the fact that man can liquidate the entire species for the first time in the checkered history of our species. There's nuclear energy in the world, too. Nuclear energy that can create so much abundance for the first time in the history of man. So you have this paradox, don't we?
Studs Terkel Isn't there something here? Aren't we touching on something not yet touched about, and I'm going to recount an incident involving you and me and at Lewis & Clark, and a young girl made a comment. Isn't the fact that our imaginations, and those we call our statesmen or leaders who are basically banal men by and large, has not been used, thinking only of the obvious, the destruction of man and fear and the appeals toward man's baseness in many societies. Instead of the possibilities that are there. Now if I could just recount this for a moment, self-serving though it may seem. James Cameron and I were talking, it was a dual talk, it was a dialogue before the students at Lewis & Clark one afternoon, we recounted our adventures in Chicago Lincoln Park some five years ago come this August, and James particularly was very witty and funny and nimble, and then a young girl came up at the end of the lecture, you know, it's such a delight to hear these two men, you and me, and she said, "Who are so quick and nimble who are not cynical. Who have hopes. I haven't heard this before." So accustomed to associate what they think is literacy or whatever it is with cynicism and not associated with possibilities. Isn't that the aspect not yet touched on?
James Cameron I--it's so often confused with skepticism, and I believe deeply and profoundly in skepticism, enormously so, everybody must be constantly and profoundly skeptical about everything one hears or even sees. But cynicism implies that it doesn't matter. And it enormously matters.
James Cameron I don't even think he was wise enough to be cynical. He said, "No kidding" not because he meant "You are not making a joke, are you, sir?" "No kidding" is the, just the [cold?] response, that's all. No, I don't think he cared, I don't think it mattered. He wasn't even bothered enough to be cynical but they were surprised because we weren't cynical, because they are used to meeting as a rule with adults who are lousy academics who do tend in self-protection to be cynical. It's simply to protect themselves from the pressures of the young, I should think, the whole time, and cynicism is a way of getting around an argument without really following it through, isn't it? And I think they were surprised that you and I were old friends who did not necessarily feel that at all.
Studs Terkel If you also--coming--sticking to the same theme. Cynicism at this moment can easily be equated, at least in my mind, with banality, too, the banality of the phrases they hear, the banality of the code words heard, "peace with honor," by that I mean, you know, the banality and the dissemblance accepted as a way of life.
James Cameron Oh, yes. I think that everybody now talks in the language of the television commercials where set sentences are supposed to trigger off a great sequence of responses, and you don't have to bother arguing any
Studs Terkel So it's, again, we come to the imagination, has not yet been touched. The imaginations, particularly of the young, ourselves, particularly the young, has not yet been touched. Rather the banal cover. I'm thinking of your experiences there and the way you felt.
James Cameron Yes. I think they see. They look around them and they see a world that is governed and led by banal men, by second-rate men, by--it in fact is flattery to call them second-rate men. They're fourth-rate as a rule, but nonetheless these are the people who achieve prominence and power. And they see those who represent the obverse side of the coin really, on the whole, getting nowhere at all. So they undercut the whole process, cut the corners, and they're going to move into the no-influence situation before they're too old for it, therefore you have old retired men of 24 years old who've retired their brains already.
Studs Terkel I'll never forget, we'll come to that matter of banality in a moment, we definitely can't leave that. This young kid saying to me, asked how old I was, I said "Sixty-one." He said, "Sixty-one?" How could you maintain your vitality? He said, "Oh, if I were, of course I'll never be that," he said, "I'll probably go at 30." The expectancy of life, we think of the life expectancy increasing, we're told medically, in every way, and yet, the kids' life expec--"Kids," see, I used that phrase again automatically, a life expectancy of the young in their own minds is something half ours.
James Cameron I wonder whether they really, whether that is strictly honest. I wonder whether they really say to themselves, "Oh, I'm going to go at 30," or whether it is an accepted, it's in a sort of accepted piece of symbolism that saves an awful lot of bother. I mean, if you say you're going to go at 30, why bother for the next five years?
Studs Terkel If man is basically conceived in sin or man is evil, man is a stinker. Then, of course, it's easy to say there's has nothing to worry about, the fact that Clifford Durr, this marvelous guy whose wife you met, Virginia Durr, said isn't man, here's man, the psalmists spoke of man and the evidence indicates he's a stinker, yet who else charted the stars, who else wrote the poem, who wrote the "Ode on a Grecian Urn"? And it's that aspect not yet hid or it's been so diminished. So banality again. Hannah Arendt spoke of "the banality of evil." And speaking of Nazism and Eichmann, isn't, can't that be reversed, the evil of banality?
James Cameron Yes. That is, yes. Evil men are usually, in history it seems to me, have been banal. The great men have been the non-banal men. I, for example, I would've defined a banal third-rate man as Adolf Hitler. From an appearance and in lifestyle and everything else. But by God, he was an important man and, therefore, I suppose, there must have been a generation of Germans that thought that you've got to be as third-rate as that in order to achieve eminence.
Studs Terkel And the very third-rate men being in power, by the very nature of his being in power, makes them say, "Hey, things are not too bad, there is someone less than I, indeed, the Jew, or the gypsy--
James Cameron Yes.
Studs Terkel Or the Pole or the Slav, or to bring it closer to home, the banal man who appeals to the baseness in hard-working men, says, "Oh, he represents me, and of course, I am much better, than that non-work-ethic man, that ADC mother with her ten kids who doesn't work. Or the hippie kid whom I could sock." And, so, again, the parallel here--banality. A while back you mentioned cynicism as being a banal way, skepticism as being another way and something else.
James Cameron I'm an enormous believer in skepticism and I don't think we see half enough of it. In the regions and in the areas where it is necessary and that is to say, in our area, yours and mine, in the realms of public communications. There are not, in spite of what the White House says, there are not enough skeptics and questioning people in, for example, television. They don't follow through.
Studs Terkel We were just seeing, this is a Sunday afternoon this conversation James Cameron and I are having at my house and we've just seen a network program involving the very banality we're talking about, the mayor-elect of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley is being interviewed by two people, and all three were banal. All three, there was absolute, as you called it, rubber bullets were being shot.
James Cameron Well, what happens is that the essence of questioning is the good supplementary, isn't it? Well, they asked this gentleman, this mayor, whom I thought very highly of, I must say, when I saw him, what he, whether he thought the President was in any sort of danger as a result of the Watergate business, and he then said, he took refuge, I would say, in what is a very common [bolt hole?]. He says, "It isn't a question of the President but the question of the presidency is more important than the President." Which, of course, cannot be denied. But the fact seems to me, impertinent though it may be for me to make an observation about this thing, that the presidency is made corporeal and real and human in the presence of a single individual, to wit, Richard Nixon, therefore he is the presidency, and the presidency isn't anything at all without somebody who's in the job. Therefore it is silly to say the presidency is in danger, the presidency is an abstraction which can only be given shape in human form by somebody, therefore, that man is the presidency. He's not just
Studs Terkel Two things come to my mind as you say that and as I heard the again, this superficial comment of Mayor Bradley. Someone in Germany could well have said, the banal person or the cynic, could have said, "I may not respect the Chancellor," in the late '30s, let's say, "But I must respect the chancellorship."
James Cameron Yes!
Studs Terkel And, so, we come to the other question of the cynic and the skeptic, questioning--the President is a public servant. You see? Often we hear people now, Watergate since, the gates have been opened since you and I last saw each other, and so we have a remarkable variety of reactions, don't we? And some say he's being persecuted, he is our President and the dangers, and even David Broder, a enlightened journalist, says, "What a calamitous event." I see it as an exhilarating event.
James Cameron Well, he called it a calamitous event, and Nixon himself called it a deplorable incident. It is, of course, neither of those things, it is a vast punctuation mark in human affairs in the biggest democracy in the world. Mustn't be dismissed as a calamitous event.
Studs Terkel Now, here is where skepticism. Now, here is where we're talking about healthy skepticism involving our servants. Public servants. And the reaction often heard is, "Well, he is our president. It'd be a terrible thing to have the presidency somewhat pockmarked." Whereas we're talking about ourselves now, does the, coming back to the kid who said "No kidding" and walked away. The impotence felt, people--don't we come to the question of a lack of a sense of personal worth in people? In the middle you spoke of the H-bomb, cascading of events. We have to come to that person, whoever he may be. Man on the street is not the word, ordinary man is not the word, as ordinary men can be, can dream in extraordinary ways. We're talking about the lack of sense of personal worth in an open society, aren't we?
James Cameron Well, one of the other students I met in Portland, who had himself already taken himself away from the college, anyhow, in the sort of sense of, I suppose, despair or something, he put the matter in a few words, he just says, "Politics in any form at all has nothing whatever to do with principles, ideology, morality, ethics or anything at all, and any politician, no matter what his political party, is engaged in a universally fraudulent act of conning the stupid voter." And then he said this terrible thing, he says, "Get back into your head, man, and you're free."
James Cameron Yes.
James Cameron Yes.
James Cameron No, and I think you know, Studs, we are falling into a rather dangerous trap at the moment. We are acting our age. Well, what we're doing is criticizing this particular generation for its lack of involvement, lack of engagement, and all this sort of thing. This is probably not true for the lot of them. It may be true for a lot of rather spoiled and self-indulged college kids, but it probably is not true for the great working mass of the country. But there I
Studs Terkel Do you recall another incident, and this is related, we were talking about the Chicago convention, and we realized that the students we were talking to at Lewis & Clark had been high school students in 1968 and not college students. They were high school students. And you recall that we finished our anecdotes and talking about experiences we asked them what they thought, and one kid got up and said, "I am 19 or I was going high school, or I was 14 at the time, he said, "I was 14 at the time, and when I saw what was happening on television, the police, the students, the beatings, I was paralyzed," he said, "And have been" implied, "have been so ever since." So we come to that aspect, don't we, too?
James Cameron Yes. I don't know what he quite meant by he was paralyzed. I think he was one of the few who was traumatized much more than the others for a great number of them, the Chicago deal in 1968 was one more spectacle on the television screen. Just one more out of so many. And furthermore it was five years ago, and five years if you're 20 years old is a hell of a long time in your life. You know, it's a quarter of a lifetime. And--
Studs Terkel But these students we heard were high school kids, and they saw their older brothers and sisters somewhat clobbered, you see. And then Kent State, of course, too. So on a previous show we spoke of this Danish student who said, "They, the authorities, the police are more scared of us than we are of them." Now I wonder if probably there is a mutual, a mutual fear involved here.
James Cameron Well, there's a polarization. I think the relationship between police and students is probably sort of, not say shattered, but damaged for a long time to come. I'm sure that so, and now we have incidents where you simply don't know who is a cop and who isn't a cop, and when people break into people's houses dressed as hippies with long beards and hit them on the head looking for drugs and don't find them and then go away without a word of regret or sorrow or apology.
Studs Terkel There's something else, an incident involving cops just yesterday. Just yesterday we were in the automobile, my wife was pulling back and you and your wife Moni were in the car and there was a police car come along and one of the young cops comes says, "Get out of the way!" I said, remember I said, "Will you take it easy?" You know. And you and Moni were somewhat put out that I talked back to him. But we noticed something. The two young cops. You've known the police of the world, particularly the French police, and they're different than the old-time potbellied guy was, these were young cops with one kid long moustache, good-looking, but the absolute coldness, the coldness in contrast to, Oh! A passion of a cop getting angry and furious. Absolute coldness, seems though there's a new kind of cop in the world,
James Cameron Supposing that man, that young cop with the moustache, had been in his car in exactly the same place at exactly the same time, but it hadn't been his car, it hadn't been a police car, it had been his own car and he hadn't been in uniform, he'd been in his ordinary clothes. Would he then have said, "Come on, back up now!" like that without a word of "if you please" or anything, I don't think he would.
Studs Terkel Yeah. So we come to the uniform again. But there's something--this is the fourth conversation, the fourth hour we're having. And, so, it's a sort of a random conversation and, yet, it's not. It's--we're talking about, now today, our thoughts come to our mind, James Cameron and myself. You mentioned a while back of the danger of you and I acting our age in not putting down the young, but criticizing the moments of now. Acting our age. You and I are contemporaries, 61, and our age means we were in the '20s, in the '30s, there was the Depression, the Spanish Civil War. There were dreams, there was something a little different. Aren't we now talking about a dream like a raisin in the sun and, yet, your whole life has come from that age, that moment. And you were covering the world as much as any one journalist ever did.
James Cameron I don't think you could ever really produce a situation of the Spanish Civil War which was a deeply romantic situation. I mean, until you got there, when it [bloody?] well wasn't romantic, but it seemed to be at the time, it was an apotheosis of one thing or another. But you could never have it again, ever, ever have it again, because the intervention of the real war in between, the intervention of something that seven or eight smaller wars that was succeeded even in the Second World War because since 1940 there's only been, I think, something like six months when you could look at the world and say that there was not some sort of a war going on somewhere. The idea that you can romantically rush out and join the international brigade and put your finger in the dike of fascism and stop it, and stop it there forever, they know they can't, they know they can't. Because it's here, you see, it's everywhere. It's everywhere, in my own country, in Britain, we have now been faced with a--in a sense, a very strange upset of history in the sense that we have suddenly lost our sovereignty, we have suddenly being embodied in a vague concept that is called Europe. The European Community. Which means an enormous sacrifice of our own [selfish routine? salvation team?] which means, in my opinion, at least that we have surrendered our own individuality as a nation not to an increasing parliament of the world as one would love to see, of course, but to a consortium of multinational enormous business concerns who are now more important than politics, and the point about this, Studs, is we have reached this state of affairs and been precipitated into this national political situation without ever being
Studs Terkel Ah, but now we come to something else--just as you speak of the multinational corporations rather than countries, yet can't there be another aspect to it present, the country, Britain, has lost its sovereignty, but did the individuals living in Britain ever have their sovereignty when Britain was number one? You see. Are we talking about the question of number one, or the question of, what does that mean to be an empire as far as the person living in that country is concerned, aside from the effect it has on the colonial people to see. Colin MacInnes, you know, the British journalist, says when Britain no longer was number one, the people felt a sense of liberation.
James Cameron Oh, yes. Oh, to be sure. If a young person felt a sense of liberation the moment they were no longer an imperial part to be sure that personally the case, but I don't think they feel a sense of liberation in being introduced and shackled into an economic system that I personally find repugnant, antisocial and anti-democratic. I have got a vote so far in my own country, and I can marginally alter the course of events, but I can do nothing about the major course of events in Europe now, and if the great Ford complex or the great Phillips complex or anybody else wants to press a button and change the whole course of European economic history, there's nothing I can do
James Cameron I believe that this is, of course, the third empire. This is the great invisible, impenetrable empire of today. The members of the great consortium, be they Dutch or Benelux or American or British, they have much more sense of kinship one with the other than they ever do have with their own people. You see, the Common Market, as we so blithely call it in Europe has everything to do with market, and very little to do with common [objectives?].
Studs Terkel Market. So market is the word as in show business, business is the word. You know, you mentioned about the leaders, multinational company leaders or the presidents or premiers of countries that could be chairman of the board, really it amounts to. Meeting one another, Doris Lessing the novelist made some observation, and she says, "Isn't it remarkable how Brezhnev and Nixon meet, or the leaders of other countries meet, or Pompidou or Heath, they meet, but they meet, they fly from one place to meet at some motel or some hotel or somebody's palace, they meet each other and then go back to their respective societies without knowing the people in their own societies.
James Cameron Oh, particularly these sort of people, but when Brezhnev goes to Bonn, he has a bodyguard of 32,000 people. He obviously never saw a [real?] German while he was there, certainly never conversed with one. How could he? The aspect of security now has insulated important people from everybody.
Studs Terkel No, I'm going to go a step further. Not only are these guys not knowing people of the country they're visiting, but people of their own country we're talking about, see traveling as we do, as they do by the plane, and there is the entourage, you know, with the president or with the premier, with whoever it might be, the chancellor, and they meet back, see each other, they sign papers, documents, have agreements, shake hands, have a toast, leave, but then nothing. So, where are we?
James Cameron They're members of the club. They're members of the club. Mr. Nixon goes to see Mr. Pompidou and they go to Iceland, of all the extraordinary places. I suppose that is simply because they could think of nowhere more neutral at the moment, except, of course, vis-a-vis Britain.
James Cameron I believe that this is the situation at this moment but I also believe that if we kick up enough fuss about it, we could possibly change it. That is the difference. No, I think that the last five minutes between you and me, old white-haired geezers like us, could have been reproduced in Portland, Oregon quite easily last week between students. The difference is that we are arguing about it, we are fighting about it, we are protesting about it, we are making a fuss about it, we're not saying, "Well, dear me, what a mess it's all in, what a pity we can't do anything about it."
Studs Terkel There's something else. As we're talking, the whole world is watching, as they said in 1968 about Chicago. Whole world was watching Washington and Watergate. Isn't the Watergate exposure a possibility, an avenue of tremendous enlightenment and a regaining of sense of personal worth in the part of people as you describe skepticism healthy rather than cynicism unhealthy. But by God, I a citizen of society, have a right to question my public servant, no matter how high his office might be, that every man a king was the basis on which the society was founded.
James Cameron Well, I hope that one day Americans will look back on Watergate and say to themselves, "This was our finest hour, almost." But they will look back on it and they will say, as possibly the citizens of Britain could do at the trial of Charles I. At least this brought wretchedness and rottenness in high places into the open and we changed it. The only thing that I fear is that the processes that end this, processes the laws delay, is eventually going to turn even Watergate into a tired out, fatigued old show. And if that is the case, that is the only thing that can save this administration. I would say. Boredom.
Studs Terkel Boredom and, perhaps, doesn't it also call for something you and I know and believe in so much: a sense of history and continuity, that the very phenomenon of Watergate, obscene as it is, did not come about by accident, that Vietnam was there, that led to it? That before led to Vietnam was a Cold War? That we have to go back and we have to go back to that, we must consider how someone such as, say, Richard Nixon came to power or how it was he was unable to do what he did and [the associates?] he did. And isn't this and also involved the average person? Something quote unquote, whatever, who the average person, involves you and me, too? The 30 years of Cold War affecting in some way our American psyche?
James Cameron I think it's probably an infection that might require a sort of total blood transfusion one day. But it's an entire generation, you know, Studs, that has been affected, this psyche, and I'm sure the psyche has been affected because every single attitude in this country is dominated by the fact that you can't get up and say, "I personally think the Communists are right in this matter." Albeit that you do think they're right in this matter. I think they've been right multitudes of the cases, although I don't think their basic philosophy is one I would share, but you cannot deny that they'd be right, but it's more than your life's worth to actually say so if you are a professional public figure.
Studs Terkel At the same time, you recognize that in their society, looking at Brezhnev, for example, we can't talk too much about China because you've been there, but the nature of culture revolution is another subject because it comes to the question of a split here between, and this is a key problem in our country, perhaps in many societies, maybe in Britain too, the hard working guy, so-called blue-collar, as against the man he calls quote unquote intellectual. This tremendous gap. Now, maybe the Chinese are trying something there. Apparently they are in some way that is arcane to us and strange, you see. That, too, is part of it, isn't
James Cameron Yes, but leaving aside the Chinese, which as you say is a bit inscrutable at the moment what they're doing. But let us in all these strictures we've been making about banality and second-rateness and leadership and so on, this was not restricted to the United States. They have exactly the same situation in Russia. And if the American psyche has been deeply wounded, probably incurably scarred, by the Cold War period over the last 30 years, so has the Russian one.
Studs Terkel What better case than an example of someone like Brezhnev, say, can be interchanged with Nixon, I suppose. The Medvedevs wrote a book about Russia and the terror of Stalin and the butchery and the brutishness, and along the line there was a mention of Lavrentiy Beria, a secret police cop. And it says, Beria was just a banal man, we come back to Eichmann again, who could have made it in any society, communist or capitalist. He was there.
James Cameron Absolutely.
Studs Terkel But I'm thinking about you, Jim Cameron, beginnings, Dundee, Scotland, journalist, working for Beaverbrook, quitting Beaverbrook, "Picture Post", "News Chronicle", "The New Statesman", your writings, your adventures. Now. As you look back now, what do you see as possibilities? Coming back to this moment. What do you see as the young you've seen in Lewis & Clark, United States, going back to London soon.
James Cameron In the broadest sort of metaphysical terms, I see things getting gradually worse for a period of years until they eventually become so terribly bad that the boil bursts socially and something is done. In this country, for example, I see an absolute imperative necessity for another constitution. And, by God, for a consideration I'll write you one over the weekend. I think the mechanics of the American Constitution have outlived their usefulness. When the 18th century gentlemen wrote it, they provided all the necessary checks and balances that were required at the time. They are no longer sufficient. A position in which an administration appoints its own hacks and hirelings responsible to no electorate, vulnerable to no voters, that I think is, bad as that is, our own parliamentary system avoids that, and any single politician in authority must subject themselves to the will of the people.
Studs Terkel Just as you say that, I think I thought of a perfect way to end this four hours, and it involves an anecdote. So accustomed that we are to saying that man up there knows more than I do because he's up there, therefore he's a better man than I, or the man behind the mahogany desk quote unquote "the boss" knows more than I do and therefore is a better man because he's behind that desk and I'm on the losing end of it, so we think of these political figures, though we, the poll says we don't trust politicians and just below them on the totem pole is the used-car salesman. At the same time, the reverence, the position, you once interviewed Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and it's a very funny story but, perhaps, tells us a great deal about even though it has nothing to do with politics, it has to do with the manner in which we look upon those who seem more powerful than ourselves. Would you mind recounting--
James Cameron Well, it was just an anecdote, of course, but it happened, I can't place the year, but it was the year of the Bandon conference anyhow in the early '60s' I think. I did see John Foster Dulles. I was allowed to call on him in the State Department, to which they had just moved, it was a new State Department in Foggy Bottom, which is relevant to the story because they were all trying to finding their way around. And he was unquestionably the most powerful man in the United States at the time, I think nobody would deny that. Anyhow, I find this so I'm going through enormous rooms into slightly smaller rooms, into slightly smaller rooms, until you come to a tiny little anteroom and then you open up into a vast and enormous office where Mr. Dulles came in to talk to me, and do you know that I can't remember a single thing he said to me at the time, although it was doubtless very important, but not a word do I remember. Here anything. I was riveted by the fact that he had on one brown sock and one blue sock. And it struck me as a very odd situation that the man of this first importance should attach so little value to the fact of wearing one pair of socks that he did this at the other time, and on the other hand I thought to myself, "Well, possibly this is a good trait in his character and that he's so indifferent to his appearance. Anyhow, we talked to the Secretary half an hour, and he was very gracious and he stood and said, "Well, I've got to go now. Allow me to show you out. And he opened a door, and he showed me out, and we shook hands and he shut the door behind me, and I found myself in a closet. This he had assumed to be the door of his elevator, private elevator, not at all, it was a closet. And he shut the shut the door and it didn't have any handle on the inside, and it was pitch dark and I didn't know how to get out. To my horror, I heard the main door open, a lot of people coming in and voices, authoritative sort of voices raised up, and I thought, "For God's sake, he's having a meeting with the National Security Council, and what the hell am I going to do, because if I suddenly wait here for half an hour and then timidly knock on the door, I'm going to be put into Sing Sing for the rest of my life, or I'll go to the chair, or something like this, so I thought, well, I had really better try and get out before they really get down to the nitty-gritty. So I banged on the door, and after a while, Mr. Dulles opened the door in absolute astonishment, and saw that he'd already forgotten me as completely as I've now forgotten him, but that was only a few minutes. "What are you doing in there?" said he, and I said, "Well, I'm terribly sorry, sir, but this is where you put me." And, so, he did a great sort of double-take and realized what happened, and put me into his private elevator and down I went. But I think it was, it was the nearest thing I ever got to the Ellsberg papers in my life.
Studs Terkel Well, in a way this tells us a great deal about who are these men who determine our destinies. They are humans. Some are very funny and very comical and at times very ludicrous. And if we only could think the man, again, quote unquote on the street can think in these terms, that he, this man, if he has a sense of personal worth, would look upon these with a healthy, using your phrase again, healthy skepticism which, of course, leads back to Watergate again. And, so, there's a postscript. As we talk about this one society, the American society, so your encounter with Fidel Castro, that's probably the end of our four-hour conversation, since we deal with human beings. Now this is--why don't you tell the story?
James Cameron Well, this is really turning into the Bob Hope show, you see, it's not supposed to be a funny show, but I did go to Cuba many years ago after Castro had been in for a little while and I obviously wanted to see him, 'cause he was terribly, terribly very, very elusive. And it wasn't that he was rude or put me down, but every time I kept an appointment with him, he was always somewhere else, and he was always on the go rushing around and I tried about six times and was stood up each time, and I got very tired of this in the end, I'd been there some weeks, so I decided to go home. And I went to bed in this hotel and I took a whacking great pill because I was very tired. And anyhow, about three o'clock in the morning I'm wakened up in the presence of about five enormous chaps in these green fatigues standing all around the end of the bed, including Fidel, who said, "I'm so sorry that we've missed each other all this time. But I've got an hour or two now. Let's have a talk, you see." Well, I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was half-anesthetized, and also I was very, very embarrassed to be discovered in this preposterous position of lying in bed there, so I sort of said, "Yes." "But what do you wanna talk about?" So I said, "Well, let's talk about Cuba for a start, shall we?" you see. And, so, off he went, and you know once he's cued in, Fidel can talk for five hours without drawing a breath. And, so, he did. And he began to talk. And the terrible thing I have to admit is that he hadn't been going around a few minutes I fell asleep. Fast asleep and I woke up in the morning around about seven o'clock and there was nobody in the room. They'd all gone. [Note?], quite properly. But, I mean, there are hundreds of people who have wanted to fall asleep in the middle of a Fidel Castro speech, but I am the only person who has actually done so when the speech was being personally delivered to me.
Studs Terkel It is sense of irresponsibility I suppose, and that's perhaps it. A sense of irresponsibility in the best sense. Irreverence in the best sense of, perhaps, is the great need at this moment, not just in our society, but perhaps in all of them. Any farewell for the moment. It's four hours we've been talking, but we've known each other for a good number of years. Before you go back to London, you and charming Moni, any thought as we bid ourselves for the moment farewell.
James Cameron I'll never bid you farewell. I'll always bid you "au revoir" as I've been doing for such a long time. And the next time we meet, which won't be very long, and it will be in Chicago, we'll see a happier America.
Studs Terkel Cheers.
James Cameron Cheers.